Cultivation and Management of Palm Oil Plantation

Published on: September 19, 2022

Palm oil is ubiquitous. Its presence is necessary in countless products globally, and it can be found in various forms in more products than you even realize. But that may leave you wondering a few questions. Where does this versatile ingredient come from? What happens along the palm oil supply chain to take this product from the plantations all the way to the products it exists in commercially? If you’re curious about the way palm oil is produced on such a large scale, your answers are here. Keep reading to discover how oil palm plantations harvest this incredible vegetable oil.

How it’s grown

Palm oil comes from oil palm trees, otherwise known by the scientific name Elaeis guineensis. This crop originated in West Africa, commonly used in many West African dishes throughout history. In the present day, the majority of the world’s palm oil grows in Malaysia and Indonesia, accounting for about 84% of the global supply. This crop thrives in tropical climates with consistently warm temperatures and high humidity levels. It’s important for this plant to get lots of sunshine as well as plenty of rainfall.

Plenty of careful work to prepare and grow this plant with the right steps is needed. To start, the oil palm’s seeds need to be dried out and then soaked to be properly germinated for growth. The small sprouts then remain in a nursery until they are mature enough to be planted at the oil palm plantation. This growth process takes about a year.

From June to September, which is the rainy season, growth is optimal for palm oil plants. Once planted, oil palm trees take about 30 months to reach maturation, which is when they will be able to have their first harvest. Harvests then occur every seven to ten days. One oil palm tree can live for around 25 years, meaning it will bear its fruit for harvest for years to come.

The manufacturing process

Once the fruit has grown from the mature oil palm trees, the fresh fruit bunches are removed with a sickle. In the first 24 hours after harvesting, the bunches are then taken to the mill, where they are sterilized with steam, effectively eliminating any bacteria that may be present. Next, the fruit is removed from the bunch. This then allows for the oil to be extracted from the pulp. The pulp typically contains up to 70% edible oil. Although the fruit itself is pressed to form the palm oil that is found in endless products, there are other parts of the oil palm plant that are used during the manufacturing process as well. The fibers from the stalks of the oil palm tree are often used for upholstery purposes, making cushions and mattresses. At the refinery, crude palm oil and palm kernel oil are then made, which each serve different purposes in the production of various goods.

Best practices on oil palm plantations

When it comes to palm oil production, there are some best practices to maximize output. These considerations allow for plantations to raise these crops most effectively.

  • Intercropping mature palm oil plants involves planting other crops in the same area to provide the most well-rounded nutrients to the soil and the ecosystem as a whole. Pineapple and tobacco, among others, are commonly used.
  • Although soil needs to have the proper moisture levels for palm oil, as previously mentioned, the soil also needs to have the optimal pH conditions and be deep enough for the roots to grow well.
  • If uneven rainfall occurs on a plantation, irrigation may be needed for the best output. 2,500 mm to 4,000 mm per year is optimal for oil palm trees.
  • Oil palm trees should not be overcrowded within their plantations. Ideally, there should be about 145 plants per hectare. This allows for the crop to properly grow and spread out.

The advantages of palm oil

Although palm oil has gotten a negative reputation over the years due to ethical problems and sustainability issues, the amazing vegetable oil has such a strong presence for good reason. First, palm oil is frequently used in the formulation of packaged food products. After being harvested and manufactured through the steps mentioned above, palm oil makes its way to factories where it is added into endless items that you can find in your local grocery store. From instant noodles and pizza dough to cookies and ice cream, palm oil can be found in many of your favorite items due to its high melting point, mild taste and smell, and textural enhancements.

Palm oil is also used in the formulation of many personal care and cosmetics items. It is commonly used in soap, lipstick, shampoo, conditioner, and skincare products. Palm oil has the benefit of adding moisture back into products that would otherwise dry the skin out by removing natural oils. It also offers a smooth texture for products like lipstick and a nice lather for soaps and shampoos.

Despite these facts, you still may wonder, “Why is palm oil so widespread if it has negative effects on the environment?” The truth of the matter is that palm oil itself actually is not bad for the environment when harvested and produced sustainably. With the right standards and practices, along with transparency throughout the supply chain, palm oil itself can be much better for the environment in comparison to other similar oils. It has a high yield, meaning it makes efficient use of the land it is grown on. Plus, with recent efforts to improve ethical standards in the palm oil industry, the pros vastly outweigh the cons when it comes to this super oil.

The power of palm oil

With careful cultivation and management, palm oil plantations transform the oil palm fruit into the versatile product we need for so many items in our daily lives. If you’re interested in finding out about the powerful initiatives in action to improve the palm oil industry, discover Palm Done Right. Pioneered by people who truly care, Palm Done Right emphasizes improved standards to make the best of organic palm oil and the practices involved to harvest it.


Why You Should Get Involved
with Palm Done Right

Palm can be grown for good, bringing benefits to:

  • Our planet, due to palm oil’s land efficiency.
  • Local communities, due to the economic development oil palm production creates.
  • Our market, due to palm oil’s versatility and functionality as an ingredient, lifting product quality and performance.

Together, we can influence change for:

  • Manufacturers that are still using conflict palm oil for their products.
  • Retailers that are still listing products that contain conflict palm oil.
  • Brokers and distributors that are still supplying their customers with products that contain conflict palm oil.
  • Shoppers that have the power to vote with their dollar.

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